1 Chance Sur 2 aka Half a Chance

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1 Chance Sur 2 (renamed Half a Chance for English speakers) is almost a thought experiment. When France’s biggest stars of the 1960s, Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo, were being courted by Hollywood, imagine that instead of deciding “non”, they’d accepted the offers and moved Stateside. What sort of films would they have made?

Decades later, director Patrice Leconte answers the hypothetical with a big, fun, explosion-filled action movie full of flamboyant bad guys, helicopters, car chases, sexy women and “we’re getting too old for this shit” repartee.

And to catch another quadrant there’s a fluffy plot driving it all, about tearaway car thief Alice (Vanessa Paradis) being pursued by the Russian mafia and aided by two men – Léo (Belmondo) and Julien (Delon) – one of whom is her real dad, though neither she nor they will know which one it is until a DNA test says for certain.

The guys are not regular guys. Léo owns a collection of superhot racing cars, Julien is a retired high-end thief. Both have “skills” which, in the fullness of time, will come in handy. In the interim Possible Dad A and B wonder which of them is the Daddy, in more than one sense, all the while trying not to appear too needy.

Belmondo was 65 when this was released and Delon 63. And both look refreshingly aged as Léo and Julien – there’s no artful dye jobs or “work” to speak of. They’re way past their peak, physically and in box office terms, but because craggy ages better than pretty, Belmondo has the edge on Delon when it comes to wearing well.

Belmondo is also more adept at smiling, and turns it on regularly, with Delon taking a while to warm up. Perhaps the revelation is Paradis, looking super slinky in a succession of figure-hugging outfits but matching the guys for charisma. She also drives the plot as well as the cars her character regularly steals.

Alice about to steal a car
Alice about to steal a car

They are a good trio, Alice and her “two dads”, as she teasingly calls them, the running gag of Léo and Julien vying for “number one dad” position hiding a more doleful truth – these two solitary individuals now washing up on the shores of old age are lonely.

How well, superbly well, Leconte directs it. He’s often (wrongly) pigeonholed as “arthouse”, but here every scene, every shot, every set piece is exactly what you’d expect from a Hollywood action movie. It is a Hollywood action movie, really, just in French. And to be honest, if the subtitles suddenly fail and your French isn’t up to much, you’ll still understand what was going on. Because you’ve seen this movie before, usually with people like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover running around in it quipping away to each other.

The score is by Alexandre Desplat, now a Hollywood fixture but back in 1998 just edging out of working exclusively in French productions. He gives Leconte exactly what he needs: a big, lush string-driven score full of James Bond cadences and bursts of brass.

There isn’t a single moment of this movie that is novel. And that, in a way, is its novelty – how closely it cleaves to a familiar template. Bizarrely, it didn’t do that well domestically, in spite of the fact that Paradis was still riding the wave she’d been on since breaking through as a 14-year-old singer 12 years earlier. It didn’t do well anywhere else either, not even getting released in Germany, the UK or the US.

As you can see from the star rating I’ve given it, I liked it enormously. It’s a hard movie to defend in terms of originality, but in terms of sheer likeability it has it all. Watch the outtakes over the end credits, as Belmondo, Paradis and Delon (now warmed up) crack up. These moments say it all. Everyone is having a great time and it’s infectious. Give this movie half a chance, in other words.

1 Chance sur 2 aka Half a Chance – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2024

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